Supporting Your Partner Through Cervical Cancer
Coping with the emotional fallout of a cervical cancer diagnosis can be heavy for a relationship. Facing your partner's diagnosis can cause you to run the gamut of wild thoughts and emotions. Feelings of fear, helplessness, anger and sorrow are likely to be frequent uninvited guests for you and your partner for some time.
The best way to emotionally manage the diagnosis, treatment and recovery of a partner's cervical cancer is to establish a mutual support system. Here's how you can support her—and, crucially, how you can support each other—so the two of you come out the other side of treatment stronger than ever.
While the primary focus right now is your partner's health, you're still going to be dealing with your own tsunami of emotions.
And that's OK.
A big mistake many people make when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer is thinking they have to turn off their feelings, stoically stand by and "be strong." What your partner needs from you right now more than ever is the steady support and love you've always given her. Similarly, if you're feeling particularly overwhelmed during this difficult time, be honest with your partner. If your partner can't handle supporting you right now, look to loved ones or support groups for help. Transparency and honesty from both of you can confirm your bond.
Remember, too, if your partner needs you to occasionally step aside so they can spend time with someone else in their support network (parents, siblings, friends), it's not a poor reflection on you. We all have our interpersonal strengths, and we all fill different needs for one another at various moments. What's important is being honest with one another about what you need at that time.
Define your role
A cancer diagnosis is going to cause a huge upheaval in your lives. Even as you come together to work through a difficult time, be cognizant that this moment marks an epochal shift between the two of you and the structure of your relationship.
Make a plan with your partner so you have an idea of what she expects from you during this process. Having an idea of your role and what ways your partner expects support is necessary to define at the outset of a diagnosis. Check in with each other throughout treatment to ensure your support is still meeting her needs. Change is sometimes uncomfortable and frightening, but it can also lead to new levels of intimacy and trust. Facing the future with eyes wide open, together, is a huge first step.
Discuss potential fertility loss
Be aware that depending on your partner's cancer progression, she could be facing treatments ranging from radiation therapy and chemotherapy to hysterectomy, which results in infertility.
You need to spend some time together talking over what the future might hold for each of you as individuals and as a couple—as well as your family plans. If having children is one of your goals, you may want to discuss freezing eggs or embryos with her doctor. You should be mindful that grappling with infertility, even if you already have children, can be a challenge.
Talk about sex
A cervical cancer diagnosis and treatment can affect a woman's libido and overall experience with sex. Approaching sex post-surgery can be especially troublesome. The surgery will result in changes to the vagina's anatomy and function, which can cause either or both partners difficulties with sex.
One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found women who had undergone cervical cancer treatment experienced insufficient vaginal lubrication, a shorter vagina, loss of vaginal elasticity, dyspareunia or painful intercourse and distress about vaginal changes significantly more than the control group.
These and other issues can also affect your partner's feelings about sex, as well as her overall physical sensation during intercourse. It's a good idea for both of you together to speak with your doctor about what sexual changes you might expect post-surgery, and perhaps seek a sex therapist as well.
Cervical cancer is a devastating diagnosis for anyone to handle, alone or with a partner. But having a clear understanding of how you can support your partner throughout the process can help strengthen your relationship despite the adversity. Taking the treatment process one day at a time as a united front can make the best of a bad situation.